Like the Barbican in my last write up, the Serpentine - now plural and the Serpentine Galleries - will forever be inseparable from their surroundings. Hyde Park. An actual Royal Park, a place of green tranquility in the middle of Europe’s largest city. A trip to the Serpentine Galleries means walking through nature, and if it;s raining you’ll get wet, if it’s windy you’ll be buffeted and blustered by the time you reach your destination be it a dash up Exhibition Road from South Kensington tube or a more leisurely amble through the park from Lancaster Gate. If it’s a glorious summer’s day, then the galleries are a cool respite from the heat and humidity.
As it was for me on Friday. A wonderful warmth settled on the city and the sun shone, blue skies gleamed and the prospect of three different exhibits thrilled. I came off the Central Line between lunch and rush hour but still it was hot from residual crowds and the season’s tourists. I decided to head to the new Sackler Gallery first and see the Hanson show. It had been getting good reviews and I’d read a very favourable catalogue introduction from Douglas Coupland reproduced on a paper’s website. He talked about the turn in critical opinion given to these sculptures of the everyman and woman, that the bronze and fibreglass figures were now a sound record of another time but no less, in fact even more relevant in the present day. The service classes, the hidden amongst us, labourers and cleaners, less probable attendees to a typical gallery show. I’d seen some of them before but displayed with other artist’s work, lessening their power - here they were more lifelike than I remember, more than a celebrity free Madamn Tusuards.
The new space is perfectly laid out, with the opportunity to come across each sculpture, each personality and scene in your own time, framed with enough space to engage with their mundane and quotidian tasks. I was taken by the old couple on a bench at the rear, I thought the cleaner was unarguably real, the cowboy more foreign to the eyes of an Englishman but no less authentic a person. I was impressed, it was a better show than I had expected.
I crossed the Serpentine lake and then circled and entered and exited and re-entered the new Pavilion. Inexplicably to me I never saw last year’s build, well, perhaps I did see the build but I never saw the finished piece. This represents the fifteenth project and looking at a display of the previous architectural works I visited them all, coinciding with my move to London. I may not have seen it completed last year, this year it feels the completion isn’t finished. There is an impermanence of much more prominence than the former creations. There are ribbons and materials used that do not constitute proper walls - boundaries are light, cheap, transparent and airy. The pavilion is more of a tent, a worm, a festival friendly cafe space more than a centre for talks or events.
It is much lower than many of the star architect builds of the projects first decade and less pleasing as a whole; I took some nice enough photos and the surfaces lend themselves to some throw away snaps but you sense the brief they have accepted, or the interpretation of that brief is a different beast to the work gone on in this area before.
Finally, the imagined black portraiture and conjured company of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. The artist was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2013 loosing out to Laure Prouvost. The coverage the award always gets was largely positive of these works and of the artist as a woman and a painter, bringing something new to the competition. I was unconvinced by the small reproductions in the papers and Time Out but seeing this show is further confirmation of painting holding a unique power all of its own in the flesh. To see oil and canvas or acrylic and board in front of you is such a different experience to the capturing of it for print.
The scenes are more real than as if they had been caught on camera. The emotions held in the poise, the pride and sadness, the unbridled joy and brow furrowed in contemplation. Yiadom-Boakye has created a world entirely of her own that speaks universally in a very successful way. Most of the pictures are very dark, an unusually forceful background brown building subtle alterations of shadow and light, the subjects not always in clarity.
I found them to be the highlight of the day, some of the most technically assured painting I have seen in a while. I had to re-read the gallery notes to confirm to myself these are not real people, that they are amalgamations and blurs of memory, reality, sketches, strangers. These canvases are very real, with an illumination deep inside their dark stretchers.
The Serpentine Galleries show Duane Hanson and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye until September 13th
The 15th Serpentine Pavilion is open every day until October 25th